Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre and Villette, two excellent examples of Gothic Lit. But are they female Gothic? Let’s check it out.
Jane Eyre: Horror: Well, yes, the not-dead wife hiding in the attic and trying to set Rochester’s Bed on Fire….Child Jane in the Red Room…boarding school….Rochester’s blindness.
Romance: Jane and Rochester.
Is Jane trying to escape the male patriarchy? This is harder. It’s her aunt who abuses her, not her uncle. She definitely likes being an independent woman, instead of working at the school, which is why she decides to be a governess. She forces Rochester to respect her by the force of her personality and intelligence. So yes, in some ways, she could be seen to do this. She doesn’t want to marry without love so she’s throwing over social convention.
But the biggest problem I always have with Jane Eyre is that the story falls apart after the aborted wedding; Jane just runs off! This is not something calm, cool, rational Jane would do, unless she has some sort of psychotic break. And if that happened, then Charlotte doesn’t give us ample justification for it. (THIS BOTHERS ME LIKE MAD)
Jane is definitely a prototypical feminist, wanting Rochester to realize that she is worthy of his respect and is his equal, even if she is “poor, plain and little” (I love that line) So she is trying to throw off the prejudice that comes to someone of her social class.
In the end, we can probably say that Jane Eyre is female gothic, although some people may not agree with this.
Villette, on the other hand, is just weird. Lucy Snowe goes to teach at a girls’ boarding school–that used to be a convent–in Belgium. She is definitely mentally unstable, haunted by the ghost of a deceased nun. And she’s in love with the school’s French teacher, who goes off on a sea voyage and never returns. Or, at least, we think he never returns, because Villette is famous for its ambiguous ending. Lucy wants to leave the reader free to imagine a happy ending, but she is pretty sure that Paul died in a shipwreck. For more on Villette’s famously complicated plot, go here. As a CAtholic, I also find Lucy’s Catholic bashing more than a bit off-putting, but then again, I don’t really like Charlotte anyway, because she didn’t like Jane Austen; she said that nothing of real life or passion could be found in her stories. I totally disagree, as we know.